As any Cowboys fan knows by now, the defense is going to be missing some players in September due to suspensions. Right now, two players have confirmed bans and two more are facing likely penalties. How might these suspensions impact the Cowboys roster decisions between now and Week One?
Here is a quick rundown of what we know right now regarding these suspensions:
- David Irving, DL - Suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Will return Week 5.
- Damontre Moore, DE - Suspended two games for violating the substance-abuse policy. Will return Week 3.
- Nolan Carroll, CB - Facing a likely two-game ban for a DWI arrest in May.
- Damien Wilson, LB - Will almost surely be disciplined under the personal conduct policy for his arrest on assault charges earlier this month. Wilson's situation is by far the cloudiest and hard to predict.
Dallas will still have a 53-man roster even without these players. That means some of our current training camp participants should make the team for at least a few weeks. Who stands to benefit from this situation?
Clearly, the defensive line has taken the biggest hit with both Irving and Moore out. They still have eight guys to work with; DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton at defensive end, and then Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric THornton, and Stephen Paea at tackle. That's certainly enough to get through a few games. Keep in mind that linebacker Kyle Wilber can also play some defensive end.
Dallas could use the roster spots on some extra depth and rotation pieces. Prospects Lenny Jones and Lewis Neal have had some positive reports at defensive end. There are also seventh-round picks Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell to consider at defensive tackle. The Cowboys could give any of these guys some extra weeks on the roster while waiting for Irving and Moore to come back.
However, with eight guys still in play and Wilber as an emergency option, Dallas could use those roster spots elsewhere. They don't have to stick to nine or ten defensive linemen as if satisfying a quota; the decisions should come down to talent and ability to contribute.
At cornerback, Nolan Carroll's expected absence will likely be filled by second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie. Fellow rookie Jourdan Lewis should also be in the mix, likely rotating in and perhaps even passing Awuzie before we get to Week One. The Cowboys shouldn't have to make any moves to cover themselves at the top of the CB depth chart.
Like with the defensive line, the effect of Carroll's suspension will be felt at the bottom of the roster. Rookie Marquez White will almost certainly make the team now, if he wasn't already. The Cowboys can at least postpone making a decision on him for a few weeks if they have any thoughts of trying to get him to the practice squad.
The major beneficiary could be Leon McFadden. The former third-round pick in 2013 played in nine games for Dallas last year due to injuries with Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. With Nolan Carroll gone, McFadden could stick around a player with league experience and some familiarity in the Cowboys system. It may not last beyond a couple of weeks, but it's better than nothing.
We may have already seen the major fallout of the Damien Wilson incident with the return of veteran Justin Durant. Dallas re-signed the 31-year-old linebacker just a few weeks after Wilson's arrest.
Durant is capable of playing all three positions and could start at Wilson's expected role of SAM linebacker. If someone else gets that job, Durant provides valuable depth anywhere you need him.
Given its severity and recency, Wilson's case and any NFL investigation may not be resolved by the start of the season. It's possible that Damien will be with the team in Week One but then wind up suspended sometime during the year. It could even drag out into next offseason and a suspension in 2018.
The timing of Durant's return may have been coincidental; giving a veteran some time off and bringing him back just before the start of camp. Perhaps they were already planning to make that call before Wilson's arrest. In that case, a roster spot may have opened up for someone we're not so familiar with. Prospect John Lotulelei has been the most talked-about of the unknown linebackers.
While I have almost zero concern at this point for Elliott actually getting suspended, we have to mention the signing of Ronnie Hillman and the potential impact of something happening with Zeke. Some have tried to suggest that the Hillman signing was due to the Cowboys' concerns about losing Elliott to start the year.
I don't see that at all. I think adding Hillman has more to do with the departure of Lucky Whitehead; a speed player who can run some of the plays as Lucky and also provide you a kick return option. It's also related to the release of injured RB Jahad Thomas, who was a similar type of player. Hillman can give them some of what Lance Dunbar used to, which neither Alfred Morris or Rod Smith can offer.
If anyone would benefit from an Elliott suspension it's probably Morris. I don't see him sticking around as a third RB behind Zeke and Darren McFadden, but he could be more valuable if he'd the number-two back for a while. You can justify his lack of special teams ability in that case.
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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